Labour newcomer reveals her long-lost son - and turns tables on the tabloids

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The Independent Online
When Ann Keen, the newly elected Labour MP for Brentford and Isleworth, read of Clare Short's reunion with the son she had given up for adoption, she was amazed.

She picked up the phone and told Ms Short: "That happened to me". For, a year earlier, she too had found her son, who had been adopted when he was a few days old.

The parallels with the Short story are remarkable, Mrs Keen found herself pregnant at 17 and felt she had no choice but to have the baby adopted. Mark Lloyd Fox, her son, has been active in the Tory party though he now describes himself as "a switcher" who has genuinely embraced Labour.

Mrs Keen has decided to talk publicly about Mark, who was brought up in Wales and is now seconded as Director of Development at the Commonwealth Institute, because she feels "under pressure to come clean even though I haven't done anything wrong". This pressure has come from a press agency employed by the Daily Mail, which members of Mrs Keen's family, including her 76-year-old mother, feel has been harassing them in order to find out about the adoption. Although Mrs Keen has not kept Mark a secret, she would have preferred "to have dealt with this in our own time, when the whole family has settled down".

Despite the photographs of "Blair's babes" and the dawning of a new era in politics, there is a feeling at Westminster that dirt is being furiously sought on the new-intake MPs, particularly the women, whose personal lives are being scrutinised.

Mrs Keen, whose husband Alan is also an MP, found herself pregnant in 1966. We may think of that time as the swinging Sixties, but Mrs Keen had received no sex education other than being told, "not to bring trouble home". When she did bring trouble home, she was sent away by her parents to the Brecon and Swansea Moral Welfare Association, which managed the adoption. She was told this was the best thing for all concerned.

"The atmosphere was very punitive," Mrs Keen said. "Everyone kept saying, "You are a naughty girl. I was made to feel incredibly selfish for wanting to keep the baby ... They advised me not to see the baby at all but I did. They told me he would be there for 10 days but when I went to see him on the eighth day, he was taken off the ward. No one asked me if I was missing him. I was told never to talk about it again and to go and make a fresh start."

But she was determined to see him again. "When the registrar came round and I had to name him, I had been reading a woman's magazine and had seen the name Jason. It may sound stupid now but at that time it seemed an unusual name, I thought `I'll get you back, I'll call him something really unusual and that way I will be able to find him'."

All she had to show for the birth were an armband, a bootie and a photograph sent to her when her son was six weeks old, but Mrs Keen never felt she had separated from him. She married Alan Keen, who had two children of his own, in 1980, but she never had children herself.

"I spent my life avoiding having children", she said. "There was just this big hole in my life".

Over the years Mrs Keen thought of her child constantly, but, in 1992, when Labour lost the election, she went through a very rough patch. "Everyone around me was grieving and talking about loss. Loss of a Labour government. I thought this is loss but nothing like the loss I know".

Mark, meanwhile, never knew that he was adopted, although he says he had a sense of being "different". He found out the truth by accident when he was 28 and was neither shocked nor angry. "It answered more questions than it raised and I just had this sense of urgency about wanting to find her," he said. Within four days he had met Mrs Keen's sister, Sylvia Heal, who is also an MP.

Sylvia phoned Mrs Keen and said she had someone with her who really wanted to meet her.

"I had never heard her voice like that before," said Mrs Keen. "Eventually she said the word Swansea and I knew. I said to my husband `Sylvia is with the baby'. I couldn't say out loud the words `my son'. I had half an hour to prepare. It was terrifying. How do you meet your son? ... What if he didn't like me?".

Mark says: "We caught hold of each other immediately. It was an indescribable feeling. Mrs Keen's first reaction was `I'm sorry'. I couldn't understand her sense of sorrow".

Though they both felt euphoric Mrs Keen remembers the strangeness of the situation. "I didn't know how to deal with it. All these suppressed feelings just came out. Suddenly here was this man."

Mark laughed: "I just wanted to be with her." His mother said: "You're not a Tory are you?"

Mrs Keen has since met Mark's adoptive mother. "In her words `we will now share him'."

The reunion took place during Mrs Keen's selection process as a Labour candidate. "If my performance was lacking it was because standing at the back of the hall was my son. I could hardly speak".

She now feels that her experience has made he more understanding. "When politicians mouth off about single mothers, I think. `You don't know what you are talking about'."

Mother and son are amazed at how similar they are. For Mark: "It's shot the nature versus nurture argument in the foot. We have the same sense of humour, often at other peoples cost." Mrs Keen feels she has rediscovered her best friend. The recent Labour landslide was exciting, she says, but, "I had my own landslide in 1995. There won't be anything that compares to it".